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The Unspeakable: Narratives of Trauma

Edited By Magda Stroinska, Vikki Cecchetto and Kate Szymanski

How does a trauma survivor communicate «what can’t be said out loud» to others? In what form? How can we – readers, listeners, viewers – recognize the pain and suffering hidden behind words, pictures, or other artifacts produced by trauma survivors? This volume presents a possible response by bringing together the «expressions of the unspeakable» by trauma survivors and the interpretation of researchers in various fields, i.e. clinical psychologists, linguists, anthropologists, literary and film scholars, historians, and visual artists, some of whom are survivors of trauma. By describing or analyzing different strategies for finding a narrative form for expressing the survivor’s trauma, the contributors offer not only insights into how the survivors dealt with the pain of traumatic memories but also how they were able to find hope for healing by telling their stories, in literature, graphic novels, visual art or simply by creating a personal narrative in their own voice.
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Breaking the Silence: Reevaluating What Makes an Experience a Trauma


Avigail Gordon & Kate Szymanski


Trauma theorists have long debated the best way to define a traumatic event or experience. This chapter argues that trauma survivors should be consulted in the formulation of the construct. It examines existing definitions, including those based on the physical parameters of the event, the existential impact of the experience, and the repercussions of the event for the sense of self. It further explores characteristics of trauma narratives and the debate over the prevalence of the term trauma in social discourse. We conducted a study that included survivors’ assessments of traumatic experiences based on a variety of definitions. We found that the most salient aspects of trauma appear to be the sense of helplessness, and the change to worldview and self-view. Implications for diagnosis and treatment are discussed, and an expanded understanding of trauma is suggested.

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